You are now several years into your career and have always been considered a successful educator. You have a good reputation in your school and in your community. You are the kind of teacher who makes parents smile when they learn their child is going to spend the year under your care. Students look forward to having you, knowing they will embark on a great journey into learning.

And yet, for the last two years, you have felt that the evaluation system used in your district doesn’t quite capture the quality of the work that you do. You find yourself not quite understanding how to be rated as the highly-effective teacher that you know you are.

The answer to this riddle often sits in the rubrics within the evaluation model adopted by your district. Whether you are a teacher, a speech therapist, a counselor or a nurse, the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey Act (TEACHNJ) requires that your school district adopt an evaluation rubric reflects your specific job description. Knowing the language of that rubric can be the key to an evaluation that better reflects your true performance.

For the most part, there is a strong distinction in the rubrics between performance that would be scored at Level 2, partially effective, and that which will result in a score at Level 3, effective. However, the distinction between Level 3 and Level 4, highly effective, is less clear. Each rubric has its own flavor, its own value system, and its own priorities in distinguishing “effective” and “highly effective.”

The difference between a 3 and a 4

In the Danielson rubric, for example, a student-centered classroom is emphasized between Levels 3 and 4. This does not mean that students are running the classroom, but rather that students are an active part of the learning community, taking some responsibility for their own learning. In the Stronge rubric, Level 4 performance is a matter of degree—meeting the Level 3 standard and then going beyond it with multiple alternative strategies to reach the same or enhanced ends. With Marzano, creating and adapting strategies to meet the unique needs of individual students is emphasized. In McCREL rubrics, taking a leadership role with colleagues in the school community is stressed at Level 4.

Some schools examine the rubrics as a professional learning activity, finding it helpful to explore the differences between the two highest levels and coming to an agreement about classroom practices that would meet the expectations of each level.

For announced observations, it is helpful to point out to your administrator those elements of the rubric that apply to the lesson you are about to teach. During the preconference, ask the evaluator what he or she considers Level 4 practice in your setting. These conversations are especially important if you are being observed by an evaluator who does not know your content or your student population very well.

Having conversations with evaluators about the rubrics helps to reinforce the notion that all observations are contextual. The creators of each of the models would concur that no educator should be kept from achieving a high score because of the level of a class or needs of the students that he or she is teaching. Higher order questions look very different in a kindergarten class than in a class for students with special needs or in an Advanced Placement Economics class. Educators who work with the most challenging students should never be penalized by an evaluation system that is inappropriately implemented.

Adept use of the language contained in the rubrics is also important when making your case in a written response to an evaluation, especially when you disagree with the perspective of the evaluator.

Being able to point to something that happened during an observation and describe it using the actual wording of your district’s rubric can go a long way when advocating for yourself in the world of high-stakes evaluations.

Richard Wilson is an associate director in NJEA’s Professional Development and Instructional Issues division. Contact him below.

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